Every episode of Comedy Central's "Review" begins not with a punchline, but an existential question: "Life – it's literally all we have. But is it any good?"
The search for the answer – by a TV host who reviews a gamut of life experiences – propels a deceivingly dark, at times brilliant comedy that's hurtled largely under the radar for two seasons.
"Review" returns Thursday for a third and final season to offer the final word on, if not life, then an unconventional sitcom that eviscerates all kinds of media conventions.
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The show centers on Forrest MacNeil (show co-creator Andy Daly), an earnest and devoted host determined to tackle nearly any reviewing challenge presented to him – ostensibly by his TV audience.
In this comedy of chaotic escalation, Forrest bounds from pancake gluttony to an unnecessary divorce to cocaine addiction to murder. He rates experiences with stars, as if he were reviewing movies (spoiler alert: killing someone, even in self-defense, gets a half-star).
But the larger story unfolding is the televised self-destruction of a hopelessly misguided, duty-obsessed man and his meltdown’s impact on his loved ones.
If that doesn't sound hilarious, well, it depends on who’s doing the reviewing. The show devolves into gripping comic insanity as Daly's wide-eyed likable straight-laced goofball turns into a wild-eyed, unhinged maniac. The humor is sparked less from the self-immolation of Forrest, for whom we're somehow rooting, than the absurd and expanding trap he’s seemingly set for himself.
Uneasy laughter also flows from the show’s sharp satire of media culture. “Review” takes Reality TV – both peeks into pseudo-celebrities’ lives and challenge shows – to extremes. Daly and Co. traverse the bleakest patches of a social media-filled world where lives are lived publicly – and constantly rated by others.
In the Season 2 finale, Forrest becomes convinced he’s the victim of a conspiracy theory orchestrated by his passive-aggressive producer Grant (James Urbaniak). Forrest takes a “Reichenbach Fall”-like plunge off a bridge with Grant, who already pushed him to the metaphorical edge.
It’s unclear whether Grant is a Moriarty figure. But Forrest, no Sherlock Homes, has yet to deduce, despite ample evidence, that perhaps the mystery of life is better explored by simply living it – without thrusting himself and others into constant peril. He’s also hasn’t figured out that the only way to fully rate life is when it’s over.
"Review," thankfully, isn’t done yet. With one season to go, “Review” gets five stars.